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User Analysis Before Diving Into Design (Part 1)

Jerry Cao
Jerry Cao

A great product experience starts with a good understanding of your users. Not only do you want to know who they are, but you want to dive deeper into their motivations, fears, mentality, and behavior.

But how do we know what our users really want?

We’ll take a look into the mind of users by deconstructing UX personas, user stories & job stories, and user experience maps. If you’d like to learn more, check out the free Guide to UX Design Process & Documentation.

Once you have a rough idea of your product definition and how it fits into the current market, it’s time to dive into user-centric modeling. User modeling and analysis will be the ultimate reality check on whether people would actually be excited about your product. Your goal here is to understand their struggles, know the details of circumstance and context, and gauge their reactions to your current product.

Why User Analysis is Important

User analysis answers questions about end users tasks and goals so that these findings can help make decisions about development and design.

User Experience Process

Source: Agile and User Centered Design

Specifically, you’ll be able to identify roles and define characteristics that aren’t always possible through market research such as knowledge, state of mind, comfort with similar products, use cases & environments, and frequency of use. These insights ensure that feature changes are based on data from people who will pay versus the opinions of stakeholders.

According to Smashing Magazine, user-centered analysis helps get more profitable products to market at a quicker pace. Because user analysis lets customers decide the path of your product, the insights you gain can help circumvent time-consuming decision-making processes and politics. When you hit a roadblock due to conflicting views, user analysis lets you move in the right direction based on inarguable facts. We’ve summarized some specific benefits below:

  • Better products Processes that involve end users as well as understand business objectives will always result in products that work better for their intended purpose.
  • Cheaper to fix problems User analysis helps you match up your product against reality to make changes while it’s still mostly just on paper. A wireframe or prototype is magnitudes cheaper than a technical fix to a live product.
  • Ease of use is a common requirement Customers often use the terms “usability” and “user experience” when describing qualities they seek in products. Therefore, user analysis drives your product to have better selling points.

UX Personas

While it may seem hard to build a person out of thin air, creating a UX persona is an important first step to understanding the mindsets of potential customers.

User Persona


Source: UXPin

Personas help to focus product decisions by adding a layer of real-world consideration to the conversation. They act almost like another person in the room when making vital product decisions. However, personas shouldn’t represent all audiences or address all needs of your product but should instead focus on the major needs of the most important user groups.  As we described in our Guide to Minimum Viable Products, trying to please everyone with your product is one of the quickest ways to fail.

Kevan Lee, Content Crafter at Buffer, believes that personas let you internalize potential customers so you can actually relate to them as human beings. He recommends three to five personas since this number is large enough to cover the majority of customers yet small enough to be specific. Below, we’ve summarized the information you’ll want to capture:

  • Give the persona a name — You can choose whatever name you like, but make it real so the person feels real. The name can also be labeled by segment, for example “Sally the Skeptic”.
  • Identify the job, role, and company Surveys can be very helpful for capturing this data. For example, Buffer’s survey showed a large percentage of users are small business owners. They then used this information to create a specific “SMB” persona.
  • Include vivid information — While age, gender, and device usage are important, you also want to describe psychology. What are their fears and aspirations? You can use metrics tools for demographics and educated guesses for psychographics.

Alan Klement, former Product Designer at Interactive Pioneers, believes that basic personas sometimes lack the causalities that lead to consumer purchases. For him,  interviews and a focus on psychology are required to flesh out personas into “characters” that can be analyzed with regards to their anxieties, motivations, and touchpoints during the buying process.

As you start building out your personas, you can keep them better rooted in reality by conducting segmented interviews. You’ll be able to inject tons of real-world data into your personas by interviewing existing customers, prospects, and referrals. To keep it simple, you can use a persona template or a more integrated solution like UXPin which allows you to attach personas to prototypes.

User Stories & Job Stories

Once you have a clear idea of who might use your product, it’s time to map out how they might use your product. This helps you design the flow of your product to be as smooth as possible.

User Stories & Job Stories & User Scenarios

Bill Wake, Agile coach & Senior Consultant at Industrial Logic, created a simple guideline to follow when developing user stories. Known by its acronym “INVEST”, the methodology helps guarantee that user stories provide business value while being deliverable in a single iteration. We’ve elaborated each of the points below:

  • IndependentThe user story should be self-contained so it doesn’t depend on other stories
  • Negotiable — Avoid too much detail so user stories are flexible and can be altered
  • Valuable —  User stories must deliver value to the end-user
  • Estimable — You should be able to estimate the resources needed for a user story
  • Scalable — Keep the user stories lightweight so they can be tasked and prioritized with a certain level of certainty
  • Testable — Explain the acceptance criteria so the team knows when a story is complete

Author of “Digital Project Management” Kristofer Layon explains that hitting the right level of specificity is the key to satisfying the INVEST criteria. He believes that a good user story must clarify the specific type of customer, describe the task with comparable detail, and clarify on the context in which work must be done. For example, a good user story would therefore be “As a Power User Pete, I need to be able to register for Program Q in office and mobile contexts so I can get back to my job quickly.” On the other hand, a poor user story would be “Customers need to use a jQuery-enhanced web form for online registration, and the form must be in the top nav and homepage.” The second example is overly specific and obsesses over technical detail rather than thinking about how users can accomplish goals.

Job Story versus User Story

Source: Replacing the User Story With A Job Story

Originally developed by Intercom, you can take the concept of user stories a step further and treat them as job stories. Instead of the “As a _____, I want to _____ so that _____” framework, the above job story helps remove some of the ambiguity of a persona by focusing on causality instead. Job stories can be more actionable since they focus on motivation rather than implementation. Adapting our previous example, a job story could then be “When travelling, I want to register for Program Q on my laptop and cell phone so I am as efficient as possible.”

User Experience Maps

While use cases look at how your personas might use the product, the experience map takes a much higher level view of the user as part of a “hero’s journey”, helping you better shape your product to be the ultimate sidekick.

user experience map

Source: Adaptive Path

According to Brandon Schauer, CEO of Adaptive Path, experience mapping uncovers the key customer moments that can be optimized for a more valuable overall experience. When done well, an experience map shows the entire customer experience, illustrating the highs and lows people feel when interacting with your product or service. Here are the four key steps to making the most of your experience map:


  • Uncover the truth — Scour your company for quantitative and qualitative data on the experiences you’re mapping. Look at a variety of sources like web analytics, call center logs and customer surveys & interviews. Triangulate your data so you fill any knowledge gaps. 
  • Chart the course — Experience maps should contain the lens (persona through which journey is viewed), the journey model (touchpoints across all channels), and takeaways (design principles & insights from mapping process).
  • Tell the story —  Your map needs to have a beginning, middle, and end. Identify what insights are important to the narrative and what are nice-to-haves. Like a good poster, your map needs hierarchy (what stands out immediately versus what sinks in later).
  • Circulate the map — Present it in meetings, post it on the wall, print it in a tabloid size so executives can see it. Make sure stakeholders can use your map as a tool to see the world as customers do.


Throughout each step of the mapping process, make sure you refer back to the customer’s actions, motivations, questions, and barriers. What is the customer doing in each stage of your map? Why will they move to the next stage? What uncertainties might prevent them from progressing? And what implementation, cost or other barriers stand in their way?

According to Chris Ridson, Design Director at Adaptive Path, the inputs of an experience map can broken out into two parts. User discovery catalogues touchpoints while user research considers customer feelings, thoughts, and actions. Combining the two lets you see themes of how different touchpoints at different times are experienced — thereby exposing expectations gaps, pain-points, and areas of opportunity.

user experience map

Source: Guide to Experience Mapping

Following the above process will help see beyond just logical needs. Joyce Hostyn, former Director of Customer Experience at OpenText, believes that experience maps can help brands completely reinvent consumer expectations. For example, by mapping out that most buyers experience uncertainty between time of order and delivery, Domino’s was able to fulfill that gap and create a “Domino’s Tracker” app that tracks pizza delivery in real time.

While experience mapping can be highly subjective and differ based on the company, you can use this helpful template as a starting point.

Design Is About Experiences, Not Deliverables

While we’ve described a few deliverables that can help the design process, design documentation should be complementary (rather than supplementary) to the design process. Adapt the techniques to your own needs (you don’t need to follow them like textbook examples), and understand that it’s all about getting you to a better design — not just leaving a paper trail.

To learn more, check out the full 150-page e-book The Guide to UX Design Process & Documentation. Expert advice is featured from Aarron Walter, Laura Klein, Ian McAllister, and dozens others. Visual examples are also shown from companies like Vurb, MailChimp, Apple, Google, and many more.


In Part 2, we’ll explore the user task matrix, content matrix, and prioritized requirements matrix.


Jerry Cao

by Jerry Cao

Jerry Cao is a content strategist at UXPin where he gets to put his overly active imagination to paper every day. In a past life, he developed content strategies for clients at Brafton and worked in traditional advertising at DDB San Francisco. In his spare time he enjoys playing electric guitar, watching foreign horror films, and expanding his knowledge of random facts. Follow him on Twitter.

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